My most recent article for Zam deals entirely with Eve propaganda. In the course of researching that piece, I reached out to CCP’s Ned Coker – our beloved CCP Manifest – for his thoughts on the topic. I asked him what he thought about the role, efficacy, and purpose of propaganda, as well as he had any favorite pieces from throughout the ages. Below is what he had to say – well worth a read in its entirety:
Everyone is sporting at least a little bit of propaganda in EVE, whether that’s what you say in local, what you choose to put in your bio, your Alliance logo, corp ticker or something much larger. The type of propaganda with the most glorious history is of course on the Corporation/Alliance/Coalition level though, and that’s the stuff I love. It’s a complex mix of identity-forming, recruitment, disparagement, and revisionism. As a history major, I love how it draws from the real world history – using millennia-old tactics of us versus them, I’M SUPER SUCCESSFUL, and humor as well as new social media tactics using dem dank memes and recut videos. Some of it is about cementing a moment in a collective EVE history (like the Clarion Call Series) or an in-game corp medal, which can be a memento or reaction to a specific battle or event.
At its core, propaganda is about controlling a narrative and creating an identity, both for your people and for those outside your group. And that narrative has a huge role to play in EVE, both in terms of morale and participation but also in terms of antagonism–much of which spurs conflict itself and can goad the enemy to fight you on the battlefields of your choice. This can give you a dual benefit of portraying strength and keeping your adversary a bit off guard.
Andrew Groen’s interview in The Atlantic today puts it pretty well actually: “inspiration and morale become these huge resources for these organizations, and that’s fun, because it means propaganda starts to matter. I have examples of these wonderful propaganda speeches, where the leaders of these alliances start talking like they’re Winston Churchill. And you get the very real sense they believe it.
As he says: It matters.
It matters to the people making it, anyone it is made against, and really to the onlookers as well. Even if you dismiss it outright upon viewing it, the seed is planted however small in your emotions and memory.
As you see in non-spaceship history, propaganda is also about getting people to do something they might not do otherwise, whether that’s recycling metal during wartime or buying war bonds or volunteering to go fight the evil bad guys abroad because of #patriotism or #morality. It challenges people to bend, even a little bit, towards your point of view as well and that’s particularly important. For many people propaganda is the easiest way to help parse the world around them into categories of what they should be paying attention to and what a particular group stands for. We all know it is much more complex, but how someone chooses to portray themselves outwardly really does give you a window into how you can expect to interact with them.
If watching modern elections have taught us anything (anything positive at least), it’s also super important to saturate the message you want to get across, and creative propaganda is a way to do that, whether that’s an Obama HOPE poster or repeated talking points about an issue that wasn’t even an issue in the popular conscience.
EVE is no different.
People interested in controlling a wider narrative plant a flag with a narrative line and then repeat it over time. Successful leaders in EVE weave it in and out of their interactions both subtly and forcefully. It’s a sight to behold no matter how they do it—especially if they adhere to a particular niche in game and are trying to carve it out. Few people in EVE do this absolutely masterfully, but when they do and what they decide to do it over is fascinating – sometimes for short term purposes but others for a longer-lasting campaign so they can reference it later on. The Red Frog guys are for instance very businesslike in their dealings, Chribba is a “nice and positive guy” all the time to keep up his rep only breaking character for very specific purposes. Brave=fun even if they lose, and AT team commercials forge opinions of pilots and must, at some level, induce doubt and fear into their opponents before the match starts. Wingspan/Chance Ravinne is a clever hunter. Are they exactly the image they portray? Of course not, but it’s part of the fun and part of the tapestry of EVE.
Think about the reputations of various organizations in EVE. How did you hear about them? Was it through firsthand experience of talking to someone over comms or was it through a logo? Or reputation passed down from someone in your corp over comms? How did they hear about them? Likely it was part of a propaganda/narrative that someone at some point told, a logo that someone designed, a YouTube script written, or a behavior they used at a particularly pivotal point.
I do believe propaganda has a huge part to play in the current war. It energizes pilots. It antagonizes them. It can feel overwhelming and fuel anger, but it can also bring hope and foster closer bonds. And really, much of it is clever enough to bring entertainment outside the client—a great break from something more serious in your non-spaceship life. Obviously much of it recently is about recruitment, identity, “hate” (which is another way of defining enemies as a force that must be defeated), and actual psychological pressure to either switch sides, diminish victories, or point out losing strategies. EVE is so complex and there are so many moving parts to a war that I think propaganda has an even bigger role to play.
Propaganda is particular (relatively) to EVE and other sandbox-style games because there is real loss on the line. Even more important to EVE because of the single shard.
Your reputation is your lifeblood. ISK may come and go, but who you are and what you have done and what you say can build both trust and fury. I was in a war once where every time our side lost a ship the same image was posted in local by our opponents. Over time I grew to despise that image and dislike the people who used it way more than I should have. I mean it’s just a game. It spurred me to undock and fight and to focus on them—which is what they wanted. We made counter propaganda with our wins. It became increasingly real even though it was a throwaway little wardec—much moreso than it would if there weren’t Alliance logos and tickers, if there wasn’t local, and there weren’t assets on the line. If it was just another PvP battle in another game, the ramifications of shit-talking pretty much subside after a few minutes at most. Clan tags are lost into the recesses of your mind. Likely you won’t even encounter the same person twice in a match.
In EVE, the ramifications of propaganda use at the right time with the right message can haunt or bolster players for YEARS and that’s damn awesome.
As for my favorite piece of propaganda, I’ll go ahead and divide it into two categories. Still image and video.
For still image, my favorite is easily the Goonswarm recruitment poster.
It is absolutely elegent in its simplicity. It has a terrific design of minimalist diminishing text where the actual most important line is the smallest, causing you to concentrate more and more as you read the impactful final line. The layout itself imparts the rhythm you need to use to read it, a bit poetic actually. It speaks to both the power of the organization and how they value a certain playstyle – that their strength is in the swarm itself. And you can be a part of it – not just as a worker bee but as a person who could turn the tide of the battle. It’s the classic heroic promise of the greenhorn putting a fork in history itself and it reduces the psychological barrier of entry to participate into something grand by breaking it down to a very granular level. There’s not a lot of imagery to distract you from the message itself, which is basic and time-honored. Every single pilot counts. This game is about cause and effect, and you can be the cause if you participate and do what you need to do.
There are so many amazing video propaganda pieces from the years, but there’s something about the Camel Empire AT ad that just gets me every single time.
I never really thought about how fierce a camel could be.
For more thoughts from CCP Manifest, be sure to check out his Fanfest talks, seen below:
And a very special thanks to Ned for delivering far above and beyond!